Why you need to care about antibiotic use and resistance
What is antibiotic resistance? Why is it a problem and how is it caused? Nirasha Parsotam, Pharmacist and Bupa’s Head of Healthcare System Strategy and Integration explains all of this and what you can do to help.
World Antibiotic Awareness Week runs from the 12-18 November, 2018.
Awareness of antibiotic resistance is important to encourage best practices amongst the general public, health workers and policy makers.
If you’ve ever had a bacterial infection, you’re probably familiar with antibiotics, which are medicines that kill bacteria. They’re essential for successfully treating and preventing serious infectious diseases. Over the past century, access to effective antibiotics has saved millions of lives, and enabled major medical and surgical breakthroughs. However, during this time, we have also misused and overused antibiotics and this has resulted in antibiotic resistance.
The number of infections where bacteria are resistant to at least one antibiotic has been increasing and that includes within Australia. We've seen the emergence of bacteria that are resistant to almost all of the easily available antibiotics, for example, MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphlococcus Aureus), multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE). These can cause serious, life-threatening illness and are difficult to treat. As our antibiotics become less and less effective, infections become harder to treat.
Without action, we could return to the days of not being able to treat common or life-threatening infections, resulting in prolonged illness, disability and death. It could also impact many of the medical advancements we take for granted, like organ transplants, cancer treatment, diabetes management and major surgeries.
To be successful, these conditions and procedures require effective antibiotics because they have a high risk of infection. If current trends continue, it will become more difficult to achieve good outcomes for us all.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Resistance develops when potentially harmful bacteria change in a way that makes them immune to antibiotics. Resistant bacteria survive, multiply and spread, causing more harm.
How does antibiotic resistance happen?
Drug resistance is a natural evolution. When people take antibiotics for a bacterial infection, the antibiotic kills off the “weaker” organisms. However, there may be some organisms that are resistant to the antibiotic, so they aren’t killed off. This allows them to multiply and spread, meaning that the next generation of the bacterial infection will no longer respond to (or be killed off by) that antibiotic.
Why is antibiotic resistance a problem?
Antibiotic resistance is a problem because standard treatments become ineffective. An antibiotic that used to work on certain infections no longer does. People are unable to recover from infections and may then spread those infections to others.
In Australia, the prevalence of resistant- and multi-drug resistant bacteria (also known as ‘superbugs’) is increasing.
My personal worry is we don’t want to get any closer to creating a superbug that would be capable of beating every antibiotic we have.
What can you do to reduce antibiotic resistance?
1. Only take antibiotics in the way they have been prescribed to you
2. Don’t ask for antibiotics to treat viral infections like colds and the flu. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses, and won’t speed up your recovery from viral infections
3. Clean your hands often! It is possible to pass on antibiotic resistant bacteria to others, so prevent the spread of germs by practicing good hygiene
Blog written by Nirasha Parsotam, Pharmacist and Bupa’s Head of Healthcare System Strategy and Integration.